Saturday, 9 September 2017

A Once in a Lifetime Event part 3

With still a few days to go before the eclipse, we drove into Kansas City and visited the Union Station which has become a collection of museums. We parked in a multi-storey car park that is linked to the museum area and city centre by a walkway and whilst we were on the walkway, we caught a glimpse of KC’s new tramcar. This provides a free service which takes pedestrians through the centre of the city and was not there the last time we visited KC, having started in 2014.

When the Union Station was built, there was huge competition between the railroad companies and so each railroad company tried to outdo each other with some amazing and impressive structures. Union Station in Kansas City is no exception because it is huge and impressive.

 It now hosts a number of museums, meeting rooms and galleries which are open to the public.

 After a short stroll around the place looking at what was on offer, which included a display of mummies, we decided to skip the mummies and visit Sea Life, an aquarium.

A denizen of the deep
The week dragged by and the sky got cloudier, then it started to brighten up and the temperature rose steadily until it was almost normal for Kansas, but the weather forecast was not hopeful.  Eventually the next day was the twenty first, the day of the 'Great American Eclipse'.

Today is the day 

The day had finally arrived and we were all up early, we were going to the Amelia Earhart Airport, a small airfield some twenty miles north of the family's home.  Getting ready for an early start, we piled all the stuff we thought we would need into the hire car. We had hired a vehicle large enough for us all to fit in together, previously we had been going out using two cars because TS and TDIL both have VW Golfs which would not take three adults and a six foot three grandson comfortably, so we needed more room. Hire cars in the USA are not too expensive, but there had been a sudden interest in hire cars, particularly the larger roomier types because of the eclipse and the prices had shot up, so we had  decided to compromise by hiring a saloon that was just big enough for our purpose.  We were pleasantly surprised because the hire company gave us a larger vehicle than they had originally kept for us.  The hire firm had one left over and we were able to have it for the same price as the slightly smaller car.
The previous evening we had scurried around making sure we had the cameras, camera sun filters, tripods, chairs, sun block, eclipse glasses, tissues, hand sanitisers and so on and so on. If we had forgotten anything, we would not be able to go back for it because the roads were likely to be crowded.

 All week the roads had warning signs telling us that the traffic would be heavy on the 21st, but the traffic was actually quite light until we got closer to Atchison where we had booked a car parking space.

 The slowest part of the journey was when we got close to the entrance to the airfield where we had to crawl the last few hundred yards. Passing a small house as we queued, there was an older couple sitting on their porch watching us slowly go past and we assumed they were feeling pretty smug because they had all the facilities to watch the eclipse at hand without leaving their house. Close to the gate volunteers were checking our entry passes and we were told to have a good day after a girl had checked we had a booked place.

The field was uneven and TS drove the big car slowly across the bumpy ground until we were waved into a parking spot, a few hundred yards into a field. They had organised the parking well and there was plenty of room between each car and between the rows.

 We piled out and headed for the nearest facility. Whereas we call them Porta-loos in England, they are known as Porta-potties over there. We passed one and then came to a second which had a short queue, then we were all soon ready to explore the site. At the top of the airfield were a number of small hangers or some similar kind of building and inside one there was an exhibition where you could have a look at a famous aircraft once flown by Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo and an important air pioneer.  The airport is named the Amelia Earhart  Memorial Airport in her memory.

Amelia Earhart
Close to the airfield’s apron there was a PA system just inside the entrance of a hanger, which was playing loud music. Later a local band played live music.

Standing around and on the concrete apron there were a number of light aircraft parked.

Two bi-planes were giving flights and kept flying over the site, so quite a festival was taking place.

Having explored a bit and noted where the food sources were, we headed back to the car and got the chairs out and set up the tripods and attached the cameras. We were all ready for the big event. Although it was not long past eleven AM, we decided that getting lunch may be a good idea, because it would get busy around noon. The eclipse was not due until just after one o’clock, so there was plenty of time but we wandered around the vendors stalls making our choices. We each found a vendor that sold our particular preference and queued up. TDIL and I went for a pulled pork sandwich each whilst TBH, TS and TGS went to queue at a more exotic Greek food stand. It was hot and sticky, so despite the water we had brought with us still in the cooler in the back of the car, TDIL and I bought a bottle of water each and sipping on these made our way back to the car. The others had not finished queuing but had told us to carry on and they would catch us up.
Back at the car, the others not far behind us, we all consumed our early lunch and waited for the eclipse.
Whilst hot, it was humid and soon we saw that in the distance clouds were looming. There was a clap of thunder and it seemed the gods were not too keen on us viewing a total eclipse this time around.
A thin band of rain had been predicted that should pass over before the eclipse started, but these clouds looked more ominous and not too long after hearing the distant thunder we saw a flash of lightning and then it began to rain.

A thunderstorm in Kansas can be bad news, very bad news, so it was not a happy bunch who sat and waited to see if the storm was going to be a bad one. Sitting in an open field during a thunderstorm is not a good idea anywhere but, the thunder passed by in the distance and it was just rain that passed over us.
With the onset of rain, away went the cameras and out came the rain gear and the brollys and we sheltered as we waited for the thin band of rain to go past. It did stop raining but the sky did not clear and almost as soon as we decided it was safe to come out from under our brollys again, it started all over again, in buckets this time.

 Eventually the rain died away, but the sky remained cloudy. It is now approaching the time for the eclipse to start, in fact it must have begun, but we could not see the sun, which remained stubbornly invisible. 
Suddenly there was a burst of whooping and cries of delight as the clouds thinned enough to see that the sun has got a bite out of it.

For many people this was exciting enough because they had never seen any eclipse before and whilst the clouds were thin enough, I managed to snap a couple of shots until the clouds thickened again. 

Looking around, I could see a lighter patch heading our way and after a while the clouds thinned enough to see the sun was rapidly disappearing and it was becoming darker.

 The sky remained cloudy, but you could clearly see the thinning crescent and then clouds rolled in again, but miracle of miracles, they thinned down just as it got really dark and we could see a circle of light around a black disk and we were able to see totality.

My camera clock was still set to British time, so subtract six hours and you can see it was just past one o'clock

The world turned really eerie, one o’clock in the afternoon and pitch black, not like a heavy cloud, black as night but all around there seemed to be a sunrise in any direction you looked.

The whole site was cheering and whooping as this weird situation remained for the expected two minutes or so and slowly the clouds thickened just as one side of the glowing ring started to brighten as totality ended.

 The clouds were moving fast and every now and then you could see the widening crescent of light grow thicker and thicker, until the clouds blotted it all out once more, but  I had seen my first and probably only total eclipse!

The sky remained obscured by cloud and so like many around us, we decided to call it a day and head off home before the rush started. Fat chance.

Once we got back onto the main road the traffic started to build and build and soon we were crawling along in a solid stream of cars all heading home.

A state trooper and the highway patrol conferring on the unexpected traffic in their usually quiet neighborhood
Ironically, after a few minutes of driving slowly, the clouds parted and there was the sun in a clear blue sky, but still with a chunk missing and so both TBH and TGS were able to continue watching the eclipse as we drove along since they were on the passenger’s side of the car and could see the sun. The traffic jams continued for a considerable way home.  We were interested to see that once home, looking at the traffic maps for that evening, the path of the total eclipse was marked out by traffic jams.

So that was eclipse day, but we were not going home for a few more days so this is not the end.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! How exciting for you all! I am SO glad you weren't totally rained or clouded out, and that you ended up having an experience that you'll all never forget. I think it must have made it all the more fun to have so many people, even apart from family, to share it with - the crowds that were with you! Glad too, that you have such a powerful camera...those photos are excellent well done!